From Solving Special Needs to a Thriving Food Brand - BeeFree | EP. #30
On this 30th episode of The E-Comm Show, our host and BlueTuskr CEO Andrew Maff is with Jennifer, CEO of BeeFree Gluten-Free Bakery. The truth is, Jennifer never saw herself as an entrepreneur before, not until her eldest son was diagnosed with autism and she found herself on a new path. Due to her son’s special dietary needs, Jennifer started looking for healthy food alternatives, which is how she found gluten-free foods. However, gluten-free snacks are typically bland so she started working in the kitchen, recreating favorite family recipes and the rest is history!
Twelve years later, here she is in a thriving food brand still consistently delivering healthy gluten-free treats while helping non-profit organizations and creating jobs for adults with autism.
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From Solving Special Needs to a Thriving Food Brand - BeeFree
Andrew Maff and Jennifer Wiese
About Jennifer Wiese
Jennifer Wiese, founder, and CEO of BeeFree Gluten-Free Bakery never saw herself as an entrepreneur, but after her eldest son was diagnosed with Autism back in 2008 she found herself on a new path. While searching for gluten-free foods to help her son's overall well-being, she quickly found that gluten-free and tasty did not often go together. So, she enlisted the help of her mother, and they got busy in the kitchen recreating favorite family recipes. Once they created a snack that all four of her boys would enjoy together she knew she was on to something big! Now 10 years later she's laser-focused on bringing delicious snacks full of real ingredients to the world while creating jobs for adults with autism.
Making this a national brand, giving people a wider variety of really good tasting clean delicious gluten-free foods to choose from.
Hey everyone is Nicole B. the chief pretty chick in charge at shopprettypieces.com this is Rolando with global tech worldwide. Hey, this is Tanner Leatherstein with Pegai and you are listening today and you're watching and you're listening to
the show. Welcome to The E-Comm Show, presented by BlueTuskr, the number one place to hear the inside scoop from other e-commerce experts. They share their secrets about how they scaled their business and are now living the dream. Now, here is your host, Andrew Maff. Hello,
everyone, and welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. I'm your host, Andrew Maff. And today I'm here with Jennifer and Mike we see Bee Free, Jen Mike, how are you guys doing? Ready for a good show?
Perfect. So let's do the usual I will pretend that no one knows anything about you too. And we would love to hear a bit of background about yourselves and be free. And we'll go from there. Okay.
Sounds good. I'll get us started. So Mike and I are husband and wife. We've been married for almost 30 years now we have four adult sons. And it's been a pretty wild ride, but our oldest son is on the autism spectrum. And that introduced us to a gluten-free way of life. And we were just looking back in 2008. We're looking for ways that we could come alongside him and support him and give him really just the best chance at life. And we landed on gluten-free foods specifically because we felt that was something we could get our hands around. It was understandable. It didn't seem too foreign, unlike some of the other things that were being talked about back then. And so that kind of catapulted us into learning. What does gluten-free look like? What is that what is gluten-free? So different from today when gluten-free or is on menus at restaurants and grocery stores, you know, marked very visibly. But in 2008, it was a lot different. So we've come a long way. But that was our introduction to gluten-free. And what we found was, that there weren't a lot of really great choices out there. We might have found a gluten-free cookie in a package on a grocery store shelf that said gluten-free cookie, but it tasted like cardboard. And it had a lot of artificial ingredients and stabilizers and other things we just really weren't interested in feeding our family. So we got busy in the kitchen and started recreating our own favorite family recipes, and came up with some food that tastes really good. It wasn't easy, though it took a lot of years really to get it just right. And when I say years, it literally took years to get recipes just right so that no one could tell. There was nothing different about it. It just was good, delicious, tasty food. So. So in 2010, I made it a business, kind of a one-girl show, although I had, you know, my family and lots of people supporting me all around. But I made it a business in 2010. Michael came on board in 2014, because he saw that I had something that could be scalable, and that could be put on trucks and shipped all over the country. And that's what we've been focused we've been focusing on since 2014 is making this a national brand, giving people a wider variety of really good tasting clean, delicious, gluten-free foods to choose from. Did you want to add anything?
No. I mean, you covered it, it's like, you know, 2014 So I jumped on board and it was the hit. She had lots of success with people you know, at farmer's markets and local and we decided that if we're gonna put this kind of effort into an end, we really want to offer really good food to as many people as possible, then we're gonna have to expand it. And it was not a lot of options back then. So, you know, to get into some of the larger chains was
the goal. And you started off going retail or online. Retail,
we did this thing completely backward. So we're a lot of people it's easiest to onboard. On, you know, through real econ. We went to brick and mortar, and we started brick and mortar. We started brick and mortar actually at Kroger in the Central Division, right in our hometown or home state of Indiana.
So you started on the retail side, you pivoted into EECOM what caused the pivot or I assume you're both now. Retail. Okay, absolutely. Yeah. What made you start going directly to the consumer.
That was a direct result of COVID. We knew that it was I mean, it was an area that we knew there was a lot of opportunity and growth potential for us that we needed to focus on. But due to COVID, it really pushed us in that direction much quicker. We were definitely behind, you know when all the retail stores shut down, or you weren't able to purchase items that weren't that deemed essential items, though, you know, our product wasn't really even being stocked on the shelf, you know, grocery workers were focusing on bread, milk, medicine, toilet paper, you know, those were the essential items. So it definitely bumped us into putting that ECAM into high gear. And Michael can talk a little bit more about that, right? Yeah,
no, we didn't we were econ prior to that, but just you know, trying to get your product listed with Amazon was a whole learning curve for us. And you know, we're trying to launch in a small group is like four or five of us in our company. And then, you know, trying to concentrate on just you one person's job could be Amazon, quite frankly. Yeah. You know, and just trying to learn how to work that program, effectively. And then our own website was a big one. And then once COVID Hit Kroger and kroger.com and Target com, both they had they jumped on the same that way we did because of their whole business with immediately econ. So they're like, Oh, my God, we know, we've had five years to change and you know, three months, and B for you as right or wrong. Besides I'm trying to figure it out in three months. Yeah.
So you, you were ecom, prior we weren't really focusing on it. And now, then you took a real big focus on it, right?
less than 5% of our sales. Now. It's, you know, 30% and growing. Oh, wow.
So what were some of the first steps you took when you realized, alright, we need to focus online?
We found a, we went out and look for companies that specialized in Amazon so that we could shorten that curve of a learning curve. We had tried for years, quite frankly, prior to COVID. To just figure out, Amazon just kept pushing it back. And we found a different couple of companies that we're able to guide us and show us the things that we were lacking. We had, we did about 95 things, right. But that 5% of the things we didn't do, are making a huge difference in people coming to look at our product, or getting in front of them so that we could get some clicks. And so with those changes, and a lot of just advertising and cleaning up and then knowing how to structure photos, and how to do the search words behind everything that would you know, they're posting that we really weren't aware of or, you know, didn't concentrate on or focus on. Yeah.
So your main focus was Amazon first before you went to your on-site.
Most sites grew at the same time. So I think a lot of our you know, efforts through Amazon bought a broad awareness to us, even on our own website. So that was kind of a surprise, you know, as much as we started to advertise on Amazon. It also lifted our our our webs our own personal website.
Yeah, well, fluid shopping. Very typical. I see that a lot with consumables and I'm one thing I know about consumables that I've always seen has been the biggest difficulty when it's first starting off is when you go online, and people haven't heard from you before. A lot of people who are like, they don't really want to be the first ones to ingest something, they kind of want reviews, they want to know what other people think. And that's also that's always very difficult when you're first starting off. How did you kind of get over that hurdle of, you know, getting people to purchase something that they may not have heard of before?
There's a social media tie in there as well, too. So we have Katy on our team that really focuses on building our awareness via social media, and just you know, making a lot of partnerships and a lot of connections with like-minded brands and influencers, that really has made a huge difference.
Okay, so you've gone the influencer strategy, which is usually the right way to go on the consumable side. What like, how is that strategy gone? Like? Are you catering to like micro-influencers? Are you doing macro-influencers? You know, which profiles are you using? How's that whole thing
going? We've had really great success with micro-influencers, and especially in our type of a product and we, you know, our product touches a lot of different demographics and a lot of different groups. So, you know, when you're talking about moms with a child that has any kind of special needs or a special dietary need, they're a pretty tight-knit community. And those people when they find something they like, they tell it, and they want to share it with everybody. So that's been really impactful for us is just getting connected with those. Those groups and those influencers out there that, you know, help tell our story. And then it's just it's a tumbleweed effect.
Oh, yeah. Instagram, tick-tock, Facebook,
Twitter, all of
- Talk is our new one. And you know, it's been a lot of fun actually, it's kind of like the old days with the other social media sites tick-tock, you can actually get some traction. And it's fun to post on there. It's, it's been trying to see what is what people want to see, you know what they want to consume on there, and then trying to shorten it down for us. Yeah, I'm successful. So Jeffers really put a lot of effort into that.
It's a team effort, for sure. Instagram really is where the bulk of our focus is, it really just seems like that's a big segment of you know, where our tribe kind of hangs out. But I really do see a lot of promise for tick-tock as well. So yeah.
Are you doing anything on like, on a paid advertising side? Besides, obviously, mentioned Amazon, but with social media?
Not? Yes. I'm glad you got that one. Oh, good. Also, we are on Facebook and Instagram, but we are not obviously tick-tocked are just starting to get into that. But we've been able to build our numbers up quickly. Obviously, they're going to start that at some point and be aggressive about it. So now it's just, you know, how do we structure you know, our content, our you know, our biggest success in the past is always demoing the product, you know, putting our product in somebody's hands, while the electronic version of that is, you know, influencer to somebody trust and micro-influencers, people seem to have more of a trust in, you know, a major and major influencer. And another part of that just budget, sometimes we just can't afford to, you know, for what the larger ones want.
Well, and also, you know, a lot of times they're, they love our product, and they love our story so much that often you know, these influencers are just, they're just kind-hearted, and they just, you know, we'll do a giveaway, or they'll do a post or a story for a couple of bags of warrior Max, you know, and so that that has served us really well.
Nice. Mike, you mentioned budget, which always strikes a very interesting question. There's, there's only a handful of sellers, I know who have gone, as you put it, like the opposite way where they were retail first, and then they went into E-commerce. And the budgets are always a very interesting question. Because you're, you know, you're making good money on the retail side, you're trying to figure out how much you're willing to invest into trying the commerce side in the beginning, so you don't really know if it's gonna work out or not? How did you come up with what you're willing to invest in the direct-to-consumer side, knowing that, at the time wholesale and all your retail, were just starting to fall?
You know, we kind of sorted out a 1010 to 15% of our, you know, budget of what we're going to sell, and then we thought, you know, that's going to take, the lion's share is too great. You know, obviously, it's always more expensive to get a new customer than to maintain a current customer. So we and then that's how we started. And then we actually backed up that number, it's a bit we found that we were much more efficient. You know, it's we could really, you know if suppose the old newspaper, you know, you could actually measure who's clicking through and who's taking eyeballs are in where their eyeballs are. And so it's wonderful coming from that world, a long time ago. And so then we can be much more efficient with our spend, and then hiring an outside consulting company to has helped us be more efficient with our spend on spend also, so even though we spent money with them, we actually saved money.
And so you mentioned you have five people internally, correct? Correct? What are their roles?
So we have a CFO, we have a chief marketing officer, we have an administrative assistant, and Michael and I, I pretty much primarily was the sales head of the company. And Michael is, you know, really great at all the logistics, the procurement, and that's kind of how we've divided our roles.
So, Michael, I'm betting your hands have been very full for the past year or so.
Oh, yeah, I'm learning all kinds of things. And no, it's, but it's, you know, I'm I like to do that. I think it's amazing how fast things are moving. You know, for retail, especially with COVID You know, you really had to be on it. And you either had to love learning this new system or, you know, adapting or, you know, just crawled out of the business. You know, it's been a tough road for last two years for everybody. Yeah, but you know, one nice thing is when you're stuck in your house, you got a lot of time to study you got a lot of time to do research, you got a lot of people that are willing to take your phone call because they're sitting at home doing nothing, you know, in you know, let's talk about how do we do econ, and it was an amazing career time and so we really have been blessed to have the avenues and the doors open that we have.
Are you outsourcing anything at all overseas, or is everything here in the state?
You know, everything's in the states we have used, you know, an overseas virtual assistant virtual assisted in the past was a great experience. But there's nothing like just having you know, somebody within driving distance least to see face to face a couple of times a month. There's still something to be said. by that incident for that, so we're trying to keep it in, you know, within our state or within in those days,
but all aspects of the product are here in the state. So you didn't you really haven't had too much of an issue with the supply chain right now.
We have supply chain issues, you know, some of it's just getting things moved across the country. And then we have, you know, our sunflower seeds is a big portion of what we do. And that comes while Ukraine, so that's an issue right now, pumpkin seeds come out of Mexico. So it's been, you know, it's anything, it seems like every product now is the worldwide product, you know, there's pieces and parts coming from everywhere in our arms come right out of California, but just getting something moved from west to east coast has been a challenge.
Our production facility is in Indiana, or Indiana, it's in the Midwest. So, you know, we really are focused on sourcing ingredients and our, you know, supplies as close to home as possible. That's always been a focus of ours. So yeah, US-made and grown is always our first. That's our first choice. So we try to keep it close to home and our production facility. Actually, we're expanding our production facility to a small, an additional smaller location here in our little town of Noblesville, Indiana, right, just north of the state capital of Indianapolis. And that facility, we're going to be able to employ more people with autism. And we'll do special projects and special projects and, and additional brands and products that we're going to be bringing to market like a hot cocoa mix, and some Rola bars and some other kind of fun things. So
nice. So, um, it's obviously a bit of a double-edged sword right now, because I know a lot of sellers, it's, it's great when almost everything is done here in the States because you didn't have to deal with the supply chain issue. But now we're dealing with an inflationary period. So it's kind of like everything here in the States is incredibly expensive. So how have you been juggling? You know, keeping your cost at a semi-decent level without, you know it getting out of hand.
So higher production level, so you produce more one time we use a contract manufacturer, so you raise the amount you generate, and then I provide all the raw ingredients to this contract manufacturer. So I constantly resource and resource and resource. So this is building that book of business where I can find out who is who has won, and a lot of its just stuff that's in stock. You know, they've, you know, they've found them all over the country. And a lot of like I said a few of our items are important. Yeah, but it's a constant struggle. I think that's for everybody. If you're on it's just, it's just one of those things you have to work on continually.
Yeah. So with an increase in manufacturing, you obviously you're going to increase your inventory, do you have a shelf life on the product that you're worried about at all?
It's rated for a year from the manufacturer, but it'll actually just be good for 18 months, but we try to keep everything within about a four-month window we like the vendor to be out of it within four months, so that they can the consumer gets the best version of our product.
Perfect. The company name is free. It's B E to E so like Bumblebee, right? So is there what's in it that as you know, kind of catered to coming up with that name.
To be free is a play on words. So be free to eat delicious gluten-free foods, be free to make good healthy choices that taste delicious. So that's really where it stemmed from. We do use honey as a sweetener in our product, which is a clean, non-refined sweetener source. So it can be a point of confusion a little bit, but definitely more questions. And we like to take that as an opportunity to you know, do some storytelling and tell a little bit more about our brand.
You mentioned you're getting into hot cocoa, right? Yes. Is anything else coming down the line?
You have, we have a nut bar and oat bar. So one of our bigger requests is portion control. So we were taking a new clean version. So when we say clean doesn't have preservatives is the packages the preservatives and then there's not a bunch of other chemicals that would hold it even longer than a year. So those are things that we concentrate on we as we make different items. So we have a nutbar coming up an oak bar coming up. We will hopefully be on the airline next to you at some point is our goal. So that when you're traveling you can see us the and then we have hot cocoa and it's mostly Kito in normal hot cocoa and that'll be our first product out of our facility that employs adults with autism.
Perfect. There's also a, there's a charitable tie to it correct?
There is. He's about that. Good. Okay. So we have B-free banks, which is a nonprofit. And idea is that 80% of adults with autism, they're either on or underemployed, they've never had a job. So some of them that are working for us right now will come in for a one day for three hours. But they look forward to that three hours all week long. As we know, everybody is happier, healthier human being when they have a purpose in their life, even if that might not sound long to us. But for them to have that one day, they have to be out. And they get to earn their own paycheck. And so we're trying to expand that program, and we're at three now, within the next two months, we should be at eight. And then so eight full-time positions might be 40, people that are working three hours, whatever. So we're hopeful that we can continue to expand that and expand products, we're branding our products, so that you know, as a consumer, that we do provide jobs for people with autism. If every retailer or every company hired one person on the spectrum, there wouldn't be an issue. But right now it is an issue. And then we hope to expand that beyond just autism. But you know, other issues that we know other reasons, and then we can help employ additional people. Yeah.
And I believe there's also a second charitable side to it as well, on your website, where you purchase, you're also providing a bag to a certain charity. That is not I can't remember the name of it right now. What can you tell me about that?
That's a field for the school. So they're Yes, that's it? Yeah. That's it fuel for school? Yeah. So they're a local organization here in our community that provides food for food-insecure families. So and it's just such a thoughtful, everything they do is so thoughtful. And that, you know, they don't there's no negative impact whatsoever. Actually, when they send food home with the children, for the weekend, they put it in their backpack during recess. So no one really knows, you know, who's getting that extra amount of food, and just really an amazing impact they're making in our community. And we're super happy to support them.
Yeah. And so it's, it's for every bag that gets purchased on your website, another bag gets donated to that charity, correct? That is correct. Yes. Awesome. It's always very interesting when there's some kind of tie to some charity or some kind of outside cause besides just we're here to make money and profit and all that fun stuff. And it's definitely a trend that I've started to see a lot of eCommerce sellers do what made you the autism one, obviously, I understand that story. I'm the one on what drove you guys to make sure that you were doing that? What drove you to help with this other charity?
The director is a personal friend of mine. And so, you know, number one, they needed support, they need support from their community partners, and we have a food business. And that was one way that we could help support them. So, you know, often that's our first offer of help is, we might not be able to write you a check if you need cash for something but as a company, but we can support you with food donations, and so and you know, the fact that our food is convenient. Most kids like it, they think it's a cookie, you know, soft and chewy. And parents feel really good about their child eating it because it's nutrient-dense. So it's just one additional way that we're a really good fit for fuel for school.
Cool. You, obviously I'm just remembering Now, you mentioned you're going into a larger product line, but isn't most of what you're selling right now. Is the warrior mix, correct?
That's correct. We have five flavors of warrior mix currently.
So you started in 2008. Right. And Mike, we were graced with your presence in 2014. Why now have you decided to expand the product line into other consumable
so when you start just we just added Carmel salted caramel, which is to our mainline, and we will continue to add additional flavor so our customers can have an opportunity to try something different target. We're in targets and they're better for us section and they've requested a new flavor and maybe suggested salted caramel or you know a couple of others. And so we started out with this and then there's just the portion control. A lot of people eat our whole bag. You know, when they go out. It's got a resealable top. It's really nice. Turn on your briefcase, your car, golf bag or you're you know, baby bag and you can eat a little bit, well they end up eating, the whole thing says, can you make this smaller portion that, so don't eat the whole thing and so the bar is convenient, it will help us be able to have a minibar at point six, seven ounces, it's like basically two bytes, and a full bar, which is about four bytes. And so the menu bar, we really hope to get into on airplanes so that you can have a taste of those and then to try to put them into a bigger bag for a sample bag.
I think so. But I think one of the other things, maybe to add to it is for the hot cocoa mix, that we really, really pinpointed that product, because it's a pretty easy entry type of a product to make in that there's not a whole lot of equipment that's required, there aren't and with the community of workers that we're going to be working with. And we don't have to worry about hot ovens, you know, a lot of other things that, you know, could potentially cause some danger, and some injury. And so, you know, this is just one way that we can bring a product to market. And we can not, you know, incur a ton of additional equipment in order to do it and provide some jobs for some additional folks.
Nice. I know that you've surpassed seven figures, you know, you that always seems to be that first initial hurdle. Well, it's really like the first 100,000 like getting up and going maybe that 500 And then that definitely that seven-figure mark is where those tend to be relatively big hurdles, you have to start thinking a little bit differently. What would you say were some of the pivotal things thus far that were able to help you get over that hurdle?
No, it's just once you learn, you know, you got to figure out the three stools I always say to stool, it's a no cash, product, and sales. So you got to grow all three evenly. Because if you sell a ton of product and you don't have the cash to produce it, or you can't, you know, you can't find it. So the things are you got to grow all three at the same time. And like you said, when you hit, you know, you hit that first 100,000 Mark and you hit 100,000 A month mark, it helps once you figure out those hurdles. It's like the next 200,000 A month is not as hard as 100,000 a month. Yeah. And you make that and getting to that first million sales annually is a challenge. I mean, it's a challenge. Anybody can do that as amazed. You know, it's amazing, a whole lot of work went into it. But the next million is not nearly as hard. Yeah.
And I would add to some key retailers, you know, that we've been able to partner with have been a huge part of why we've been able to make some of those big jumps.
Yep. Are you doing any? Well, so you mentioned you're in a ton of different retailers are you I know you're an Amazon you have your own site are you selling anywhere else online?
Yeah, we're on target.com kroger.com or.com Go
puff pod online people.com
Sean forgetting Sam also those are some websites out there and I forget
website Amazon top one right now correct? Yes. Okay, what's the next tear down for you guys?
Probably fair.com Which is fair and P pod is just coming online. Do you have another one do you think would be in that range?
There's a ton of opportunity with go pass for us right now just because we have a brand that you know is relevant to that kind of demographic and that type of shopper so there's you know a big awareness void for our brand that you know if we pay attention to in the right ways we can have some nice impact there. Yeah.
There is growing like a weed. I feel like I'm slowly starting to as I add more episodes I do I'm starting to get more and more people to start to mention that is it so that one's obviously doing really well for you starting to see a lot of smaller retailers starting to pick it up also.
We are Yeah, we're getting you to know we're starting to get because we're relatively new with fair.com We're starting to get repeat business which is always the goal. We don't want to sell it just once you know we want our customers to stay with us for life and grow with us and you know, get their customers to grow this as well.
Michael Jennifer really appreciates having you guys on the show. I don't want to take up any more of your time. I know everyone's busy. But I would love to give you guys a minute please feel free to let everyone know where they can find out more about you guys and more about being free.
Oh of course. So beefreegf.com is our website. And you can follow us on social at on Instagram at beefreeglutenfree on Facebook BeeFreegf and soon On TikTok.
Yes, right? Yes.
Mike and I are on LinkedIn as well too with our names. So, Jennifer, we see and Michael we see on LinkedIn, so feel free to reach out. We love conversation, and the community is so awesome.
Thank you so much for being on the show. I really appreciate it. Everyone who tuned in, of course, thank you as well please make sure you rate reviews and subscribe on whichever podcast platform you prefer, YouTube, our YouTube channel, or ecommshow.com. As usual, though, thank you so much. We'll see you all next time and have a good one. Thank
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